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South Africa v Ireland - teams and prediction

PREVIEW: Whether revenge or unfinished business, one thing is certain when South Africa take on Ireland.

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It is going to be an epic match.

Playing on home soil for the first time since being crowned 2023 World Cup champions, the Springboks host Ireland in the first of two Tests this Saturday at Loftus Versfeld.

More than 50 000 people are set to embark on the journey to Loftus, where the No.1 and No.2 ranked teams in the world will lock horns.

The rivalry between these two teams has reached its peak.

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For South Africa, it’s a case of finally ending the losing streak and securing a victory after failing on three occasions under the Rassie Erasmus tenure.

For Ireland, it’s about solidifying their status as a powerhouse rugby nation following their World Cup quarterfinal defeat to the All Blacks.

While words like revenge might not be at the forefront of the Springboks’ vocabulary as Rassie Erasmus stated earlier this week.

There is a sense that this is arguably a litmus test for the Springboks team, who have beaten every top 10-ranked nation except Ireland.

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“For us, it’s about winning this Test match,” Springbok captain Siya Kolisi stressed when asked about the importance of breaking the Irish hoodoo.

“We would be lying if we said it is not important. With this group and with our coaching staff, they [Ireland] are the only team we haven’t beaten.

“We have been able to beat everyone else, so it’s important for us.

“It’s just like that time when we lost against Japan in 2015 [World Cup in the pool stage] and then we had that game to play just before the 2019 World Cup, just to get that monkey off your back.

“It is one of those things for us as a group.

“We can’t say it’s just another Test match, even though it is but it’s a big one.

“It’s the first time the people will see us play at home against the team who are No.2 in the world.

“They have been the best team in the last couple of years, so it is big.

“There is no saying it’s just another game, it’s big and I know it will be big for them too.”

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Springbok assistant coach Mzwandile Stick remembered the last match against Ireland, the 8-13 defeat in the World Cup pool stages clearly.

And although he emphasised it was history, he said there were a few key lessons they took from that match.

“It certainly fuels our motivation,” Stick said.

“When we faced them before we created opportunities that could have placed us in a position to win the match. Their crowd is also always behind them.

“In that game, there were things we didn’t do well, and we learned tough lessons from that, but it also brought us tighter together as a group. In fact, a lot of what we learned helped us in the match against France.

“We definitely have to rectify those mistakes and ensure that we perform better on Saturday because Ireland are a quality team and they have a way of using their chances.

“That said, what happened in the past won’t count tomorrow [Saturday]. The reality is that against a team like Ireland, you’ll probably get five chances or so and you must use them to come out on top on the scoreboard on the day.”

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Since the 2023 World Cup triumph South Africa has only played one Test, beating Wales 41-13 at Twickenham last month.

The Irish have had a busy season, playing five times since a World Cup quarterfinal exit, winning the Six Nations title after defeating France, Italy, Wales and Scotland and losing to England.

There was very little rest for the majority of the Irish team, who were playing for Leinster and Munster in the United Rugby Championship semifinal.

However, despite the long season, Ireland captain Peter O’Mahony said the team are rejuvenated and ready for the challenge posed by the four-time World Champs.

“Some might say it has been a long season, but I’ve never seen a fresher group of players,”  O’Mahony said.

“Unfortunately, we were all out of the semifinal in the URC and it gave us an extra week to get organised and hit the floor running.

“We got into camp a little earlier. I think everyone would be wrong or it would be strange if you don’t stand a little taller when you are inside the Irish group.

“It is a great environment and a great place to be in.”

He added: “There is an unbelievable pep in our step and we enjoy each other.

“It’s going to take probably the very best performance of this group’s lifespan to win in South Africa.

“But we tick off a lot of reviews and this is why you play the game. For big Test matches and games like this.”

 

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Springbok head coach Erasmus has named 12 starters from the World Cup Final win against New Zealand last year, with Handre Pollard at flyhalf at his old stomping ground.

The goal-kicking consistency of Pollard was missing during the 8-13 defeat the last time the two teams met at the World Cup pool phase.

One-cap Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu gets the nod ahead of Mannie Libbok on the bench.

The new kid of the block can play fullback, centre and flyhalf, and with replacement scrumhalf Grant Williams also able to fill in as a wing, Erasmus opted for a six-two forwards-backs split.

Ireland coach Andy Farrell sprang a surprise by naming uncapped Jamie Osborne at fullback in place of Hugo Keenan, who will be on Sevens duty at the Paris Olympics.

A hamstring injury has ruled out star scrumhalf Jamison Gibson-Park, and Craig Casey takes over with veteran Conor Murray on the bench.

Jack Crowley continues as the successor to retired Johny Sexton.

FACT FILE:

South Africa have won 18, drawn one and lost nine of 28 internationals between the countries since the first meeting in Belfast 118 years ago.

The widest winning margins were 38-0 for South Africa at Lansdowne Road in Dublin in 1912, and 38-3 for Ireland at the same venue in 2017.

The largest aggregate score was 58 points with South Africa defeating Ireland 32-26 at Ellis Park in Johannesburg in 2016.

The longest winning streaks were eight matches by South Africa (May 1981-June 2004) and three by Ireland (November 2004-November 2009 and November 2017-present)

The highest attendance was 78,750 at the Stade de France in Paris for a 2023 World Cup pool match, which Ireland won 13-8.

Players to watch:

For South Africa: The depth of the South African squad is an absolute joy to witness. Despite missing big names like Damian Willemse, Steven Kitshoff, Deon Fourie and Canan Moodie, the team is still loaded with star-studded personnel. In the backline, Willie Le Roux is one to keep a close eye on. One of the senior statesmen, the fullback reads the game so well and always finds a way to create try-scoring opportunities. Handre Pollard’s goal-kicking will be a crucial component. The physical locks Franco Mostert and Eben Etzebeth will be amped for the stern abrasive challenge, while Kwagga Smith is another workhorse who will want to make the day difficult for the Irish. On the bench, Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu will add a different dynamic to the attack. Whenever the 22-year-old takes to the field there is a frisson of excitement, while he just exuberates calm and such class.

For Ireland: The Irish wing James Lowe is always a talented player to look out for. He loves to get in the thick of things and is not afraid to put in the big hits. Fullback Jamie Osbourne will make his debut. The young man, who has been impressive for Leinster, will have his work cut out as he has to outwit the experience of Willie le Roux. The centre pair of Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki have the skills to punish any defence on a good day. In the pack, loose foward Josh van der Flier will be a menace at the breakdown, while Andrew Porter will certainly want to get under the skin of the front row.

Head to head:

Prediction:

@rugby365com: A tricky one to call, which is a good thing for Test rugby.

But with Loftus Versfeld as home-ground advantage, I give it to the Springboks by seven points.

Teams: 

South Africa: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cheslin Kolbe, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Kurt-Lee Arendse, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Faf de Klerk, 8 Kwagga Smith, 7 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Franco Mostert, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 1 Ox Nche.
Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Gerhard Steenekamp, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Salmaan Moerat, 20 RG Snyman, 21 Marco van Staden, 22 Grant Williams, 23 Sacha Feinberg-Mngomezulu.

Ireland: 15 Jamie Osborne, 14 Calvin Nash, 13 Robbie Henshaw, 12 Bundee Aki, 11 James Lowe, 10 Jack Crowley, 9 Craig Casey, 8 Caelan Doris, 7 Josh van der Flier, 6 Peter O’Mahony (captain), 5 Tadhg Beirne, 4 Joe McCarthy, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Dan Sheehan, 1 Andrew Porter.
Replacements: 16 Ronan Kelleher, 17 Cian Healy, 18 Finlay Bealham, 19 James Ryan, 20 Ryan Baird, 21 Conor Murray, 22 Ciaran Frawley, 23 Garry Ringrose.

Date: Saturday, July 6
Venue: Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria
Kick-off: 17.00 (16.00 UK & Irish time; 15.00 GMT)
Referee: Luke Pearce (England)
Assistant referees: Karl Dickson (England), Mike Adamson (Scotland)
TMO: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)

 

 

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